Swiss citizens recently voted about new regulations for their radio and television licence fees. The result was an extremely close vote for a licence fee that, similar to the German model, is not based on usage. All households must pay the licence fee and now all companies and businesses as well. The new rules were highly controversial and they will be until further notice. But opinions are divided on the source of the malaise. Some people are irritated by the fee’s nationwide coverage, while others are annoyed about programme content.
A frequent criticism is that this is not a licence fee, but rather a tax. That’s precisely the point. Instead of continuing to argue about television today, we should have a serious and urgent think about a genuine MEDIA TAX. This should be more than just a radio and television fee and a medium-term solution to interrupt advertising. This could be one way to enhance the licence fee’s reputation among those who don’t listen to radio or watch TV. Everyone uses media in a print, electronic or digital form.
So this ought to involve advertising sponsors. While advertisements take up 1.5% of airtime on ARD and ZDF, German-Swiss TV’s first channel shows 9% adverts on a daily basis, while the advertising also interrupts feature films. But hand on heart: is a movie still a cultural achievement, which is worthwhile promoting, or not just a way of subsidising adverts with public funds? Then there’s another irritation. How beneficial are the exceptions of the BBC or ARTE! Culture, information and entertainment should either be funded through advertisements or from the universal licence fee. The present system of mixed accounting is frustrating and irritating. A genuine media tax could follow a different approach – one that would be fairer as a nationwide “fee for media consumption”. On the one hand, shares in television would be newly evaluated (by deducting advertising), while on the other hand cultural and information services in the classic print sector as well as in the purely digital field could also receive new funding. This could include a reporting fund for newspapers or the extended use of radio and television archives. Literary reviews online, a digital library or free streaming service for regional music are all imaginable – with royalty payments funded from the media tax. This would therefore widen its remit to include contemporary media usage that hardly anyone can be exempt from. That would ensure the licence fee remains legitimate.
By Beat Mazenauer
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright
This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe on 17 September 2015.